Oops!… Britney Spears Forgot the Charisma Again

Photo by Denise Truscello

Photo by Denise Truscello

Eager to forgive the Britster her transgressions against The Prime Directive of Showbiz? Move on to another critic.

Prime Directive? Give us more than your show. Give us … you. Or, as this show title suggests, at least a piece of you.

Yet critics seem content to cut Britney Spears and her vacuous stage persona in her new Piece of Me residency at Planet Hollywood so much slack that she could just belch to the beat.

Prevailing wisdom appears to be: Super-mega-uber fans adore her, ergo her show clears the bar. Forgive my traditional bent, but for us non-Brit-nuts—not haters, just those who are heart flutter-free at the mere sight of the Mistress of Midriff—an emotional connection trumps a sensory commotion.

Eye-wise, Piece of Me is the expected dazzler, even if lip-sync skepticism lingers. That’s somewhat forgivable given this show’s exceptional athleticism. Watching Spears bounce around the Axis Theater stage, flying (sometimes literally) from one feverish set piece to another, and expecting her to hit every note perfectly is like expecting a clock to keep ticking during an 8.0 quake.

Brit arrives in a descending sphere. She stands inside a ring of fire. She swings from a jungle-tree branch. She leashes and spanks an audience member (Mario Lopez on opening night). She goes airborne in white angel wings. She does her best to keep pace with 14 phenomenal dancers. There are snowflakes. Water cannons. Blinding lights. Brit vids, flashing checkerboard-style on elongated monitors wrapping around the top of the stage.
Brit departs in an ascending sphere.

Hits are here and then some—21 in all, including: “Work Bitch,” “Baby One More Time,” “Oops! … I Did It Again,” “Womanizer,” “I’m a Slave 4 U,” “Freakshow,” “Circus” and “Toxic.”

Only thing missing, as expected, given her entire career: charisma. Piece of Me is a spectacle constructed around—and designed to obscure—a personality cipher onstage.

Vocally, she’s always sounded as if the voice of your car GPS broke into song, her warmth level somewhere below Siri on your iPhone. Beyond “Vegas, what’s up!” and “Isn’t this theater beautiful?” there is no attempt to draw the audience into her orbit, beyond brief strutting for VIPs at the lip of a thrust stage. Tellingly, no stage monitors flank the theater, barring close-ups, rendering her a faraway figure for the majority of the house.

Achieving a dubious dichotomy, Spears simultaneously headlines an extravaganza and hides in its shadows. Unfortunately, she can’t claim an MC Hammer hit that would accurately reflect her emotional approachability: “U Can’t Touch This.”

Undoubtedly, Spears’ global army of fans can fill the Axis Theater’s 4,600 seats during her 48 shows per year through 2015. Not one of the Cheers-for-Spears faithful? Demand a dollop of personality? Visit other Strip “residents” such as Elton John, Shania Twain and Celine Dion. (Or nurse the memories of Bette Midler, Tim & Faith and Garth Brooks.)

Watching Spears in Piece of Me is likely akin to spaceflight: being shot at tremendous speed into a void that is both stunningly gorgeous and frigidly cold.

Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.

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